I used to land in an exciting destination and then leave my phone on airplane mode the entire time.
Have you ever done this?
I did this to avoid racking up expensive roaming charges and stupid data fees no one tells you about. Smartphones come in handy for navigating cities or translating local language but the last thing I want is bill shock when I return home. Luckily, I found a way to use my smartphone in the cheapest way.
So how do you avoid roaming charges?
If you asked me a couple of years ago, I would have told you to get an unlocked phone and purchase a local SIM card in each country you visit. I since started using KnowRoaming and stopped purchasing local SIM cards.
It’s a travel SIM card designed with travellers in mind. It’s the most convenient SIM I’ve used. It doesn’t break the bank and works everywhere I go. I’ve used it for about two years now to help me avoid roaming charges (and not get ripped off on international rates). It’s become my go-to voice and data plan on the road and I happen to think it’s the best SIM card solution for people who travel. It really is the cheapest way to use your smartphone abroad.
Using a Local SIM Card
Getting a local SIM card involves going into a local telecom company, trying to decipher who has the best pricing and coverage, then going back to the shop every time you want to top up. This can be time consuming and frustrating. If you visit multiple countries in the same trip, your SIM may not be compatible once you change countries. Sometimes there are also activation fees and it can be challenging to monitor your data usage. Not to mention, the inconvenience of visiting a physical store and language barrier trying to communicate with customer reps.
I found KnowRoaming data packages are actually comparable to local providers.
The Best SIM Card for Travellers
KnowRoaming is a Toronto-based start-up (yay for Canadian start-ups) and they have created an all-in-one travel SIM technology that works in 200+ countries (that’s pretty much every country in the world). Voice and data plans are packaged into one single high-tech card or sticker that works in Europe, Asia, USA, and Globally. It has helped us on those short trips of only a few days and longer ones that involved visiting multiple countries.
We don’t have to spend valuable time researching or buying local data plans in different countries anymore. Or switching out SIM cards every time we get off a plane (those pesky little pins, I lose them every time!)
How it Works
There are two formats to choose from: the Travel SIM Card or Travel SIM Sticker.
The Travel SIM Card (US$9.99) comes in mini, micro, or nano sizes depending on your device. It works like a physical SIM card you are already used to. You will need to switch out your home SIM card every time you go abroad or return home.
The Travel SIM Sticker (US$14.99) is probably the most convenient format and it’s the one that we use. You simply stick the SIM sticker on top of your home SIM card. The sticker automatically detects when you’ve entered a different country (or returned home) so you never have to swap SIMs again.
Both formats work in the exact same way. Which one you choose just comes down to preference. Do you want a sticker that stays stuck to your phone and you can forget about it? Or a physical card you manually insert/remove each time?
Once you receive your SIM, download the KnowRoaming app. The app is how you will buy your different data packages for each trip, top up credit, check your balance, and manage your data usage.
This SIM is Great For:
- Single country or multi-country travel
- Short-term trips 1-7 days or longer travel such as 30 days
- Getting off the plane and having data right away
- Making cheap phone calls abroad
- Having emergency data you can turn on anytime
The biggest advantage with KnowRoaming packages is that there is no contract or subscription. You just pay for what you use or need.
The plans are also divided by region (rather than country) unlike local SIMs. So you can cross multiple borders and the SIM will still work (without roaming charges).
The rates are really affordable. It has saved us so much time and money, especially the hassle of getting a new SIM in every country we visit. Here are some of the data plans you can get:
- Global Unlimited data for 1 day, 3 days, 15 days, or 30 days (starting at $3.99)
- USA Unlimited data for 3 days ($5.99)
- Europe 1 GB of data for 30 days ($9.99)
- Asia 1 GB of data for 7 days ($9.99)
Although there is no package for voice or calling minutes, they do offer pay-as-you-go rates, which are very cheap (around $0.10 cents/minute).
What Else You Get:
- 4G LTE high speed coverage in 200 countries
- Free US phone number to send and receive calls
- You can purchase a local number for other destinations for about $3-5 month
- Your calls can be forwarded abroad using ReachMe Call Forwarding ($3/month). This is only available with the Travel SIM Sticker
- Free WhatsApp for 30 days every time you load money or make a purchase with your account. You won’t get billed for data usage when you use WhatsApp
- 24/7 support by phone, WhatsApp or email (I use the WhatsApp support when I have questions and they are very quick to reply)
Need to Know
- You need an unlocked phone
- You can’t remove and reapply the travel sticker to another SIM card so if you get a new phone or new home SIM you will need to purchase a replacement sticker
- They do offer eSIM but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is not compatible with all phones, and only data packages can be used with the eSIM (voice or calling is not enabled with the eSIM, at the time of writing this post)
- When you purchase a data plan, it will not automatically activate. There is an added step where you need to click “Activate” before you can use it (I forgot to do this once in the US and I was left data-less for a weekend). Once you purchase it, you can choose to activate it immediately or you can wait to activate it later when you travel.
- Credit expires after 9 months so only add funds you will use
- If you don’t want to pay for a data plan, you can pay-as-you-go which is charged per/MB (although it’s much cheaper to buy a package).
One of the downsides is that KnowRoaming currently does not support SMS. It’s not a deal-breaker for me since I mostly use instant messaging apps anyway, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to send or receive messages. These apps still work with the data plans.
Sometimes after returning home, my phone has trouble detecting that I am home. If this happens, I just hit up their 24hr tech support and they walk me through the steps. I’ve contacted them by all three methods – phone, email, WhatsApp – all work well (WhatsApp is amazingly fast and instant). The KnowRoaming website is also full of step-by-step instructions to troubleshoot.
I think these issues are minor. They really are just a few small inconveniences which usually have quick fixes. They haven’t impeded our travels so far.
How I Use KnowRoaming
I pay only for what I need. This might come as a surprise, but I don’t always use data when I travel. Most trips, I only use data for a portion of the time, mainly so I can unplug and disconnect when I’m away. Still, I always keep my KnowRoaming account pre-loaded with credit and have data access at the ready. It gives me peace of mind that I can turn it on at any moment especially in case of emergency, or when I just need to make a call, order an Uber, or maybe search last-minute restaurants in the area.
I also like that I can buy data in shorter packages for short trips, such as 1 day or 3 days, instead of 30 days like local SIMS.
On a 4-day trip to New York City, we spent the first day exploring the area around us on foot. We didn’t need a data plan as everything was close by, but on the other days we ventured out to 3 different boroughs at opposite ends of the city. We used the 3-day data plan to look up train schedules in real-time, order Uber to and from, and book a last-minute attraction ticket. It only cost us $2 bucks a day!
I make long distance calls from home. I use KnowRoaming a lot when I am not travelling. One of the biggest benefits for me has been using the “long distance at home” feature which allows me to make long distance phone calls from home to overseas for ridiculously cheap. This has been a huge money saver for us, especially in managing our Airbnb flat in Budapest. We are often calling guests to give directions, or sorting out issues with our Hungarian bank (not to mention all the time spent on hold waiting to speak to someone). It costs us about $0.18 per minute to call Hungary vs $2.50 per minute if we used our home telecom company. I’m not so paranoid now about being on hold, since it costs us peanuts.
I check the app before my trip. I absolutely love the app. The user design is easy and straightforward to navigate. It’s where I manage every part of my account. I can check my balance, buy packages before my trip, view rates for every country before I get there, track my data usage, and see any charges in real-time.
I really think the Travel SIM by KnowRoaming is the most convenient solution out there for travellers. It’s packaged into one single high-tech card or sticker, and since it works in every country, it could very well be the only SIM you’ll ever need.
After using their voice and data plans for a couple of years now, it has helped make our travels easier and cheaper. Sure, the cheapest way to use your smartphone when you travel is by keeping it on airplane mode the entire trip, but that’s not really an option these days since we use our smartphones for everything. You can finally take your phone off airplane as soon as you land without worrying about those damn roaming fees.
While KnowRoaming provided me with a Travel SIM Sticker, all opinions are my own and I would never recommend anything I don’t use myself.